I spent the weekend of November 12th in Washington, D.C., with five other CHC students along with Sister Joannie and Sister Colleen from campus ministry at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. This event brought together nearly 2,000 high school and college students, all in the name of challenging, discussing, and exploring sources of injustice in our country and our world, as well as means of acting upon and potentially eradicating some of these sources. There were three keynote speakers, including Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries - an organization that provides hope, jobs, and new life to former gang members looking to get back on their feet. Additionally, there were three "breakout" sessions, where each student could attend whichever presentation that they pleased. There were countless different issues addressed. From climate change to LBGTQ+ rights - it was all covered.
Passion for learning about the Earth and the issues threatening it
Since I am an environmental science major, and have an immense passion for learning about the Earth and the issues threatening it, I attended all environmentally-related lectures. First, I talked to a resident of Flint, MI, where drinking water was contaminated last year by corrosive pipes and pollution. These residents still do not have clean drinking water despite national attention and governmental acknowledgement. I learned about how 41% of the citizens live below the poverty line - most of them are minorities - and poverty is on the rise because of this issue. Additionally, the speaker told us how, although this is an environmental injustice issue at its core, it is clearly connected to other social injustice issues like systemic racism, poverty and even education, as many kids are suffering from neurological effects due to lead poisoning.
Pipeline threatening the Lakhóta tribe culture
For the next breakout session, I got to meet five young men and women of the Lakhóta tribe living at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I talked to them about the pipeline that is threatening their culture, their history and their most basic human right - clean water access - all in the name of billionaire oil corporations lacking a care in the world. Each of the students spoke about a different aspect of the Dakota Access Pipeline. One covered how this is nothing new. Namely, the U.S. government has been mistreating Native Americans for hundreds of years. The others talked about the power of youth and people of our age, the power of social media, and what we can do to help out without traveling to Standing Rock. The issue continues to intensify, as the military and police continue to become more aggressive against the non-violent protesters - recently spraying them with ice cold water out of high-powered hoses, leading to hypothermia and other injuries.
Island nations losing their entire island due to climate change
Lastly, I gathered with others to explore the increasing effects of climate change. We learned about island nations that are slowly losing their entire island and having to relocate their population due to sea level rise. We also covered the increasing droughts in California, infrastructure damage and earthquakes due to fracking, and other issues. We split into small groups, and were challenged to come up with a solution to a problem. We had to include members of the community, and had to thoroughly think out each step and its counterargument. It truly is a shame that, despite the undeniable existence of climate change and human impact, millions of people, including half of congress and our new president elect, still refuse to believe climate change is real.
The entire conference was extremely refreshing, and provided me with some hope. I often feel hopeless because I look around and see countless issues that should be solved, but can't do much by myself to solve them. Issues like the above could so easily be solved and eradicated if the government really wanted to. It's disheartening to have to fight against our own leaders or those in power over issues like these. From the conference, I realized that the only way for me to make a difference is to remain hopeful, try to speak out more, and be more active in these issues. Instead of just being inwardly cognizant of these issues, I'm taking the initiative to speak out more, share more, and take more action. It is hard to find hope sometimes, but we must do what we can. If we want to see change in our world, we need to educate ourselves and others, keep an open mind, discuss disagreements and act on it all. Overall, I'm extremely happy to have been a part of the event, and I thank Campus Ministry for providing many opportunities like these to all students each year.
I encourage you all the take a similar initiative. Even if you just share or retweet a post on an issue you care about, you are increasing awareness and bringing us closer to justice.